From the Editor
Is the placebo effect getting stronger with time?
Since the first writings of English physician John Haygarth at the turn of the 19th century, the placebo effect is something well documented and well discussed – but not well understood. How can people respond to sugar pills and the like?
Even more oddly, the placebo effect seems to be changing with time, at least in terms of antidepressant medications. In a classic paper published about a decade and a half ago, Walsh et al. found that the placebo effect was getting more pronounced over the years. Dr. Timothy Walsh joked in a Washington Post interview that “[t]hey’re making placebos better and better.” Besides being an interesting finding, there are larger issues – start with the implications to drug development. After all, if the placebo effect is rising, it becomes more challenging to develop a drug that bests it.
Have things changed since the publication of the Walsh et al. paper?
In this week’s Reading, we consider the new Furukawa et al. paper. This study, which reviewed 250 plus randomized controlled trials that involved more than 26,000 patients and included unpublished data, found that the placebo effect isn’t increasing. Also in the Reading: an editorial commenting on the Furukawa et al. paper.
Please note – there will be no Reading next week.